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Library : Books : Flowers & Gardens of Madeira Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 - 12:29:23 AM


Chapter 1: Introduction
By Florence Du Cane
May 2, 2007 - 7:43:12 PM


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The feelings of Edward Bowdick, as described in "Excursions to Madeira and Porto Santo in 1823," must often have been re-echoed by many a visitor who sees the island for the first time: " To those who have visited the tropics nothing can be more gratifying than to find the trees they have there dwelt on with so much pleasure, and which are decidedly the most beautiful part of the Creation ; to be reminded of the vast solitudes, where vegetable nature seems to reign uncontrolled and untouched ; to see the bright blue sky through the delicate pinnated leaves of the mimosa, whilst the wood strawberry at its feet recalls the still dearer recollection of home; to gather the fallen guavas with one hand and the blackberry with the other; to be able to choose between the apples and cherries of Europe (which are so much regretted) and the banana — it is this feeling which makes Madeira so delightful, independent of its beautiful scenery and the constancy and softness of its temperature."

Any feeling of disappointment that the traveller may have experienced from his first cursory glance at the island must surely be quickly dispelled on landing, especially if this should be in the month of January, when, having left the snows and frosts of Europe behind, after travelling for four days he is basking in the almost perpetual sunshine of so-called winter in Madeira. Lovers of flowers — and to those I most recommend a visit to the island — will find fresh beauties even at every turn of the street: the gorgeous-coloured creepers seem to have taken possession everywhere. Hanging over every wall where their presence is per­mitted will come tumbling some great mass of creeper, be it the orange Bignonia venustus, whose clusters of surely the most brilliant orange-coloured flower that grows completely smother the foliage; or the scarlet, purple, or lilac bougainvillea, whose splendour will take one's breath away, with its dazzling mass of blossoms. The great white trumpets of the datura, combined possibly with the flaunting red poinsettia blossoms, will quickly show the fresh arrival the bewildering variety of the vegetation —so much so that I cannot fail again to sympathize with Mr. Bowdick, who, writing on the subject, says: " The enchanting landscape which presents itself flatters the botanist at the first view with a rich harvest, and not until he begins to work in earnest does he foresee the labours of his task. What can be more delightful than to see the banana and the violet on the same bank, and the Melia adzerach, with its dark shining leaves, raising its summit as high as that of its neighbour, the Populus alba ? It is this very gratification which occasions the perplexity, at the same time that it confirms the opinion, that Madeira might be made the finest experimental garden in the world, and that an interchange of the plants of the tropical and tem­perate climates might be made successfully after they had been completely naturalized there."

Since the above was written (1828) no doubt much has been done in the way of naturalizing plants from other countries, chiefly by the English, who are the owners of most of the principal gardens in and around Funchal. Many a plant and bulb from the Cape has found a new home in Madeira, and has spread throughout the length and breadth of the island, straying from gardens until they have now become almost hedgerow flowers; while at a higher altitude than Funchal, plants from England and other parts of Europe have also found a new resting-place.

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